Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Who Is Qualified to Be a Deacon? A Careful Analysis of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (Part 2 of 3)

Deacons are “… not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Tim. 3:8b-10).
The requisite “not greedy for dishonest gain” combines mē (“not”) and the adj. aischrokerdēs, also rendered “not greedy for money” (CSB, NKJV) or “fond of sordid gain” (NASB). The only other usage of this expression in the NT is in Tit. 1:7 as a qualification for the eldership, thus comparable to “not a lover of money” in 1 Tim. 3:3.1 Beyond his example, this is particularly relevant when a deacon is responsible for and/or has access to the finances of the church (cp. Matt. 6:21; John 12:6).
The word “hold” is translated from échontas, the present active participial form of écho, denoting a persistent “holding” (cp. 1:19). As a major emphasis of the epistle, “the mystery [mustērion]2 of the faith” is another way of referencing “the [system of] faith” (1:2, 19b; 3:13; 4:1, 3, 6; 5:8; 6:10, 12, 21), “the gospel” (1:11), “sound doctrine” (1:10; 4:6; 6:1, 3), “the truth” (2:4, 7; 3:15; 6:6). Yet the “holding” is insufficient without “a clear conscience” (cf. 1:5, 19; 2 Tim. 1:13). While a deacon’s observable behavior is of utmost importance, “it was absolutely necessary for one occupying such a post to know something of the deeper spiritual life .… the true deacon, whose office it was rather to administer than to preach to the people, must also be especially careful to show that he lived the life he professed to teach …”3  
The provision to “be tested” to “prove themselves” is probably little more than the church observing and identifying those in their midst already active in serving and exhibiting these qualities.4 The adj. “blameless” [anégklētos],5 “beyond reproach” (NASB), “nothing against them” (NIV), is also expected of an overseer (Tit. 1:6, 7) and therefore synonymous with anepílēptos (1 Tim. 3:2). The difference between elders and deacons is role and responsibility but not character. No serious criticism can be validated against them. If prospective deacons pass the test, let them serve as deacons,” the verbal diakonéō descriptive of rendering service but not necessarily leading the church (v. 13; cf. Acts 6:2; Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Tim. 3:11). 
On the adv. “likewise” [hōsaútōs], see comments on v. 8a. The first question is whether gunaîkas here refers to women in general, women assisting deacons, female deacons,6 or wives of deacons. While all Christian women ought to exemplify these stipulated characteristics (cf. 2:9-15; 5:5-10),7 the immediate context concerns men serving in the official capacity as congregational deacons, one of the requisites being “the husband of one wife” (v. 12). Contextually, therefore, this seems to be an instructive prelude to affirming that deacons not only have to be married but married to the right kind of spouses. God created marriage as a partnership (Gen. 2:18, 24), and a woman who supports her husband in ministry is a great blessing, especially when ministering to families and lone females. By including this brief segment in the discussion, Paul provides “a reasonable basis for evaluating whether a man under consideration for a leadership role will have the support needed to effectively discharge his duties …. The opposite qualities would hinder her husband’s ministry and limit his influence…”8
These women are to be “dignified,” the adj. semnós also rendered “reverent” (NKJV) and “worthy of respect” (CSB, NIV), a quality required of their husbands as well (v. 8).9 Like older women in the church (Tit. 2:3), they are “not” [] to be “slanderers,” the plural form of diábolos, used of the “devil” in vv. 6-7 and elsewhere in the NT. In the plural the adj. refers to those who are slanderous, false accusers, “malicious gossips” (NASB), or “malicious talkers” (NIV), the kind of ungodly people to avoid in perilous times (2 Tim. 3:3). Honesty and speaking with integrity reveal the character of these wives and that of their husbands (v. 8). They are to be “sober-minded” [nēphaléos], “self-controlled” (CSB), “temperate” (N/ASV, NKJV), “sober” (KJV), also expected of overseers (v. 2; cf. Tit. 2:2). If “free from the influence of intoxicants” is granted as a potential nuance, there are further parallels to vv. 3, 8, and Tit. 2:3. Finally, “faithful in all things,” or “trustworthy in everything” (NIV), as they carry out their duties according to scriptural guidelines and serve as role models for other women in the church. 
--Kevin L. Moore
     1 Cf. Luke 16:14; 1 Tim. 6:3-10; 2 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:5; 1 John 2:15-17.
     2 Something once hidden but now revealed, viz. God’s purpose in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7; 4:1; Eph. 1:9; 3:3-9; 5:32; 6:19). 
     3 H. D. M. Spence, “First Timothy,” in NT Commentary 3:192 (emp. in the text).
     4 Cp. Acts 6:3; 16:2; Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:16-22; 13:5-6; Phil. 2:22; 1 Thess. 5:21. 
     5 Occurring five times in the NT: 1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 1:22; 1 Tim. 3:10; Tit. 1:6, 7.
     6 If deaconess were an official position in the early church, this would still be a role of service rather than congregational leadership and would not change her overall function in the community (2:11-15). 
     7 Contrast 5:11-15; 2 Tim. 3:6-7. 
     8 Aubrey Johnson, “Does Paul Give Qualifications for Deacons’ Wives?” in Entrusted with the Faith 362-63.
     9 The same virtue is expected of older men in the church (Tit. 2:2) and should be contemplated by all Christians (Phil. 4:8).
Related PostsDeacons' Qualifications Part 1Part 3
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